What is Value Stream Mapping?

How to Start Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping can be setup quickly with post it notes and a wall. It can help you understand your organisation from inside out.

Understanding your company’s Value Stream is an important part of Lean Manufacturing, regardless of what type of products you are making. Today we will look at what a Value Stream Map (VSM) is and how we find it amongst all that is going on in your business.

A VSM is the process of documenting each step of your manufacturing process. We want to include each machine or robot used, show where people interact with the product with manual processes or even moving the product from one area to the next.  Once all of the manufacturing or processing steps have been noted, we want to look further, to both ends of the manufacturing process  – what happens with the Packing and Dispatch process? How are the orders received? How do the Sales department handle the customer information over to the Engineering department?

While each of these steps are outside of the usual Factory boundaries, they are still part of your products Value Stream and the important part they play with the overall success of your manufacturing abilities becomes clear with the VSM process. This activity of listing all of your Value Adding steps as they are at present is what we call a Current State Value Stream Map.

Simply put, the Value Stream Map is the series of processes through your company that add value to a product for which a customer will then pay for. In many manufacturing environments the manufacturing value stream is listed in the work order or traveler – those steps that need to be done in the right order to make the product. For process manufacturing environments, it’s the process line that creates the products value.

How Do We Find Our Value Stream Map?

Most manufacturing companies these days will have more than one value stream, even when using common equipment to make different products. These can be determined with some examination of the grouping of products, understanding their route through the factory. If you are in an industry with a huge variety of different jobs and processes, or a straight “job shop” environment, the Value Stream is still there, it is just a little harder to see. A TXM consultant can guide you through an analysis of past sales and coming orders to help understand where the main Value Streams lie within your company.

We’ve Found Our Value Stream, Now What?

Once your main Value Stream has been identified we can begin an in-depth analysis of all the processes that go into this one Value Stream Map. We do this with a Value Stream Map (VSM). Even if you have identified more than one value stream (some companies may have more than one parallel main process) the parts analysis will help you chose where to begin your VSM activities.

Value Stream Mapping needs to involved the main stakeholders in the organisation and should allow a discussion to take place so all teams can identify and map their processes across the business, this is a major step in creating a Future State Map that everyone can agree upon and implement.

Not Just a Pretty Picture

Creating a current state value stream map (also known as a business process map for office based value streams) is the first step for TXM Lean Consultants when we tackle a new program or start on another area with an existing client. The value stream mapping process allows us to see the entire process we are investigating on one (large) sheet of paper, including customer requirements, suppliers, scheduling information, central computer processes and all informal ways of doing business each day. But this process is more than just creating a pretty, colourful picture or cool printouts to cover your War Room walls – there are several benefits that we find each time we get a cross functional team together. These unexpected benefits occur regardless of the type of industry or level of the organisation that we are working with. Here we will discuss the three unexpected benefits of creating a value stream map.

Bringing People Together for a Conversation About the Business

The team developing a Lean Factory Layout
Bringing your senior leadership together is paramount to the success of your value stream mapping sessions.

A strong feature of the TXM approach to values stream mapping includes demanding a cross functional team to participate in the VSM process – we even like the customer and supplier to be represented. If that isn’t practical, Sales and Purchasing representatives are a good stand-in. Our favourite part of value stream mapping process is the “a-ha” moments when the team members suddenly realise that they thought they fully understood the value stream but realise they only understood it from their perspective, not the full picture of what it takes to provide the customer with a value added product or service.

Producing a Piece of Work Done as a Team, With a Common Goal

As the team goes through the VSM process it forges bonds across departments and results in a piece of work, done collaboratively with a common goal. We would like to think that, in business, everything we do during our workday is with a common goal that benefits the company and fits with its values, but we all know that sadly isn’t always the case – departments may have different interests or individual targets may not align with team goals. Developing a value stream map creates a common understanding and cements in the project goals with the people that helped to make it. Being open to other ideas and listening for understanding to our fellow team members all contributes to a solid, value stream based foundation for the improvement project.

Providing a Centre Piece for Future Conversations and Communications

Once the value stream map is completed, it becomes a central piece to hold conversations around. As many of us in the manufacturing industry prefer visual information over our other senses, it feeds that need and provides a stepping stone to creating a common understanding about the business as well as the value stream itself. As the map is used to develop a vision for the future of the company it can be used to communicate to the wider company about what has been achieved, discovered, considered and decided to act upon. It is a powerful tool to educate others and help them feel part of the change process as it unfolds.

When you are considering your team for your next value stream mapping activity, remember that there are many benefits in addition to just a colourful map, so give those key people a chance to participate in this important process.

Timothy McLean

Author: Timothy McLean

Timothy McLean is the Managing Director of TXM Lean Solutions and is an author of Lean books.